Photos and Story By Mark Shephard
The Elkhart Truth | | November 23, 2012

“Sweet beans” happens to be Melissa “Missy” Mast’s catchphrase for the way she responds to life’s thanksgivings, and it literally ties in with her current job as an enterprising ADEC barista at Gaining Grounds in Goshen.

Mast, who has a reading and learning disability, said that after watching the movie “Hot Rod”, in which the phrase “cool beans” made her laugh a lot, she decided to start using a variation of that as a way of responding to people in the community; a community that Mast considers “just awesome”, and a community she truly enjoys serving “sweet beans” to as a barista.

“With such a great community around us – like your neighbors, our friends, and even just your work atmosphere – they watch out for you, they really care about you. It’s just really neat. I have met some really neat people in the public, and I’m able to blend in with the public, and make new friendships. I’m really getting to like this atmosphere. It’s really fun,” said Mast.

“Mainstreamed” through Northridge High School, where she graduated in 2009, Missy took special education classes in elementary, middle and high school. “It takes me a long time to finely process long questions” said Mast. A year of vocational rehab in 2010 led to two previous working experiences – a stock and inventory position at the Paper Depot in Elkhart, and a retail job at the Depot in Goshen.

“It has forced her into the public, and it has built her confidence to greet people and be friendly. She was even scared to cross the street with me before her employment, and now she walks to the bank by herself.” – Miriam Mast, Missy’s mother

Miriam Mast, Missy’s mother, said ADEC wanted Missy to understand the basic know-hows of being part of the workforce before she started her employment service at Gaining Grounds. Missy’s on-the-job training at the coffee shop has done wonders for her self-esteem. “It has forced her into the public, and it has built her confidence to greet people and be friendly. She was even scared to cross the street with me before her employment, and now she walks to the bank by herself,” said Miriam, who also praised The Golden Rod, a faith-based ministry to people with developmental disabilities, for helping “build her confidence to be out in public, and how to respond in public situations.” Missy’s mentors take her out twice a week to locations of her choice.

Mast’s new horizons encompasses her new “friends that I have here at Gaining Grounds. They are very important to me, because I’ll ask how they’re doing, and they’ll ask how I’m doing, and they’re really much like family. Like when I had my uncle pass away, I had come into work a couple of days later, and over on the counter I had seen some cards. So they’re really like family,” said Mast.

Mast is “grateful for family, realizing that we have each other to lean on,” and is quite excited about “getting together with family” in Colorado for Thanksgiving. Miriam said the trip to Colorado is Missy’s first big adventure into a completely different world.

Missy’s two older brothers, Austin and Tom, and her twin sister, Molly, whom she has always been able to confide in, are all attending different colleges. “I’m really thankful for having a twin sister, because when no one else knows how I’m feeling I can always go and talk to her. Like if I have any crazy questions, or any personal questions, or just everyday questions in life and stuff, I can always run to her.”

“I’m thankful for Austin because when I would be just in a really bad mood, or cranky, he would always be there to cheer me up, and he knew how to help me keep my head up, and really help me get through the hard, difficult times. He distracts me from whatever situation I’m in. He thinks of different funny things to say.”

Missy also praises her parents Norm and Miriam, and said that she is “glad that we have what we have, and just realizing that we won’t always be able to see each other, and so we really cherish our conversations and talking at Thanksgiving, and just realizing what a good family we have.” Miriam has instilled in Missy a love of homemade crafts, and she has scarves for sale at Affairs to Remember and Cinnamon Stick in Middlebury . “It was her way of making money before she was employed by ADEC,” said Miriam.

Another work day at Gaining Grounds almost concluded, Mast grabs the cash register drawer, goes to a still room, and starts to count the proceeds multiple times. She then makes out a deposit ticket, bags the funds, and walks covertly down the street to the bank. Melissa is well-known to the tellers, and the cordiality of the exchange ends with her patented “sweet beans.”